A recent Japanese environmental study revealed that people living near Phnom Penh’s dump are exposed to higher levels of dioxin, a deadly chemical, than people in other Asian countries.
Touch Seang Tana, a Cambodian fisheries scientist who worked with the Japanese experts during a year-long survey, said Monday he could not estimate how much higher than average the local levels are.
That information should be available in June, when the researchers plan to present the survey findings at a seminar in Phnom Penh.
Overall, the scientists said, Cambodia’s soil, water and air have become more polluted over the past 10 years, and peoples’ health is suffering as a result.
Dioxin, a chemical believed to cause cancer and other health problems, was not the only contaminant researchers discovered at the municipality’s dump in Stung Meanchey district.
The scientists found evidence of arsenic contamination of ground water in the area, findings that buttress a World Health Organization study released in August that found about 9 percent of the country’s wells are contaminated with arsenic.
Officials said at that time that while worrisome, the arsenic contamination is not severe nor widespread, and as yet presents less of a health hazard to Cambodians than fecal contamination.
In the latest findings, researchers said those most at risk include about 200 children, mostly boys, who scavenge daily at the dump. Analysis of their hair indicated levels of heavy metals high enough to cause learning disorders, the scientists said.
Touch Seang Tana said that a decade of industrialization has meant more gas and diesel emissions, more oil leaks and more poorly maintained engines adding pollution to the environment.
And while Cambodia has an air pollution law, it must be better enforced or else “our great Angkor Wat can face a threat like the Taj Mahal of India, which was threatened [by fumes] from the factories nearby,” he said.
Last week, the Japanese researchers met with Cabinet Minister Sok An and Touch Seang Tana to suggest three ways to improve the situation: burn the garbage at 1,000 degrees Celsius to destroy more pollutants, maintain the landfill more rigorously or recycle more of the waste.
Touch Seang Tana said Sok An appeared to favor the third alternative, because he said it is less expensive and could provide up to 20,000 jobs.